If you ever came home complaining about something, our mother would look at you with a straight face, one hand probably on a hip, and she’d say, “Well, what are you gonna do about it?”
My friend Michelle Woo recently took a dive into the life of Kamela Harris. I loved that she pulled out the quote above from a talk Kamela gave where she shared a lesson from her late mother, Shyamala Gopalan.
“Well, what are you gonna do about it?”
The simple question contains just seven words. But it tells us a lot about how Kamela gained the fighting spirit that allowed her to become “A first and an only.”
One of the few certainties in life is that things will go wrong and people will piss you off. Good things come to those who reframe their thoughts from pity-mode to solution-mode as quickly as possible.
Michelle’s thoughts and Kamela’s story got me thinking about other simple questions that when asked consistently can lead to big gains. In addition to “What are you going to do about it?” below are 7 others that are worth asking yourself.
1. Am I having kind conversations with myself?
Recently I read an article about the kinds of friends each person needs. I agreed with most of them except they forgot to include having anchors in your life.
In addition to my wife, Nick Wignall has turned into my voice of reason: “Most people would never talk to a friend the way they talk to themselves. Reserve time to have kind conversations with yourself.”
I used to think questions like “Am I having kind conversations with myself?” sounded stupid. I regret that. One of the best habits you can build is to have cheesy conversations with yourself.
2. I am asking for what I want?
I run a few groups with people who get stuff done. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned when working with these people is they all understand no one is coming to save them. If they want something, they have the stones to ask for it.
As someone who often suffers from analysis paralysis, observing how quickly these people make things happen has been a serious wake-up call. Sure, you’ll get rejected from time to time. But most people don’t sit around making fun of people who have the courage to chase life.
Just make sure you’re also asking yourself how you can proactively support other people. The easiest way to persuade others to join your cause is by having a reputation for helping others.
3. Am I reserving time to feed my curiosity?
My dad sat me down and told me that my mom had cancer. After letting this news thaw, we talked about life and what it means to lead a good one. As we were wrapping up our conversation, he said something that stopped me cold:
“The saddest part about getting older is seeing how intellectually dead some of my old friends have chosen to become.”
He’s told me a million times to follow my nose. The words “intellectually dead” scared me into actually listening to him.
Life isn’t about being the smartest person in the room. Nor is it about being the strongest or the fastest. It’s about learning a new something, meeting a new someone and seeing a new somewhere. In short, it’s about treating your curiosity as your primary responsibility.
4. What’s the next right thing I can do?
Like most people, the last 8 months have thrown my life upside down. Losing half my work contracts while trying to keep two young kids sane was the least of my worries. In the span of a week, 5 family friends passed away.
Asking myself what’s the next right thing I can do seriously helped me to put one foot after the other.
Maybe the answer is to throw yourself into your art. Or maybe you break out a board game. It could even be that you simply lay down for 20 minutes. Feeling good all the time is unachievable. There’s a lot of power in learning which activities make you feel a little less worse.
5. What Am I Constantly Avoiding?
Brian Pennie spent 15 years addicted to heroin. Today, in addition to pursuing his Ph.D. in neuroscience, he’s giving talks all over the world, and he’s just published his first book “Bonus Time.” More importantly, he’s the happiest person I know. The dude shines. A big reason for this is because he faces life head-on.
If he needs to have an uncomfortable conversation, he has them.
If he needs to take a day to get his taxes in order, he does it.
These things may not be fun, but they free up a ton of headspace when they’re done. Like Brian said, “It’s easy to put these things on the long finger, but they always come back to bite you in the ass.”
6. Am I acting in-line with my priorities?
I love my work. I love my family more. At times, however, I get excited about work opportunities and I over-commit. I hate that feeling. I beat myself up. When discussing this with my coach Justin Caffrey, he replied: “If your family matters most, schedule your time with them first.”
It’s amazing how simple advice is always the best advice.
If your friends and family come first, create a list of things you are going to do together the following week before scheduling your work. Make plans. Stick to them. A wise woman once told me any career success that ends in divorce is not a success.
7. Am I doing things each day that stretch me?
I was asked to give a talk at a university in the US a few weeks ago. If it had been an in-person, I would have jumped on it. But few things make me more uncomfortable than presenting on Zoom.
Despite not being able to talk or move from having ALS, thanks to technology, my friend Kevin Swan can type with his eyes and he’s a helluva motivational speaker: “Get over it,” he wrote over Slack. “I’m paralyzed, you’re not. Trust me, you’ll kick yourself later if you don’t suck it up and say yes.”
Pain is a part of growth. Do something that stretches you even a little each day. Confidence doesn’t only come from getting things right. It also comes from putting yourself out into the world and trying.
With the exception of my dad, it dawned on me while writing this that all the people mentioned in this article I’ve met within the last year or two while living in a small town in Spain.
Put yourself out into the on-line world. Say hi to people. Another extremely valuable question you should ask yourself is who am I going to meet today?
This article first appeared on Medium.
Michael Thompson is a career and communication coach who helps people advance their professional careers while simplifying their personal lives. For weekly career tips and thoughtful essays, feel free to follow along here.